News / Africa

South African Rancher Prospers with New Way of Farming

Richard Haigh’s food production is designed to be environmentally friendly

Darren Taylor

This is Part 5 of a 5-part series: Innovations in African Farming
Continue to Part:  1 / 2 / 3 /4 /5


Almost four years ago, Richard Haigh had what he called a “crazy idea.” At the time, he was working for a South African health NGO. Although he was based in the city of Durban, his duties often took him deep into the rural interior of KwaZulu-Natal province.

South African agro-ecological farmer, Richard Haigh, farms only with indigenous animals, such as these Nguni cattle
South African agro-ecological farmer, Richard Haigh, farms only with indigenous animals, such as these Nguni cattle

“For years I had noticed people there using land in very traditional ways – planting traditional crops, having traditional animals,” Haigh said. “I felt quite inspired by that. And when I turned 40 [in 2007], I thought ‘I’m just so tired of the politics of the NGO world; why not purchase a piece of land and buy a small farm and see what we can do?’”

So Haigh quit his job and bought some land in the isolated KwaZulu-Natal midlands. He named his farm “Enaleni” – a Zulu term that implies “agricultural abundance; a place where there is more than enough.”

Haigh acknowledged that this particular name was “insanely optimistic” at the time, given that there was “next to nothing” on his newly-acquired land.

Haigh, with Danielle Nierenberg, a researcher from international NGO the Worldwatch Institute which says the farmer has one of the best examples of an agro-ecological farm in Africa
Haigh, with Danielle Nierenberg, a researcher from international NGO the Worldwatch Institute which says the farmer has one of the best examples of an agro-ecological farm in Africa

“We started from scratch here – no fencing, a dysfunctional borehole, no water, no pasture…” he told VOA. Haigh’s property was also particularly dry. It’s situated in what he terms a “rain shadow,” which means surrounding mountains block weather systems that produce rain.

Yet the area also suffers extremely high humidity. Haigh wanted to farm with cattle and sheep, but he was advised that these conditions – “dry but humid” - would be very harsh on animals. “Every disease that cattle and sheep get, you find here,” he said.

But, despite the odds against him, Haigh has transformed his land into “one of the best examples of an agro-ecological farm in Africa,” says Danielle Nierenberg, a senior researcher at the Washington, DC-based Worldwatch Institute, an organization that promotes food production that doesn’t harm the environment.

Farming to protect the surroundings

“Agro-ecology is a type of agricultural system and land use system that is also designed to protect the ecology,” said Haigh.

Serena Milano, of Slow Food International, a Rome-based group promoting the sustainable production of local food varieties, explained, “Food production must also protect ecosystems and soil fertility; it must preserve wild resources, including forests; and it must protect the ocean, rivers, lakes, and groundwater supplies…. When the trees are lost, so too are many wild foods and medicinal herbs essential to communities’ diet and health.”

Some of the crops grown naturally on Enaleni Farm, without the aid of any chemical fertilizers or pesticides
Some of the crops grown naturally on Enaleni Farm, without the aid of any chemical fertilizers or pesticides

Instead of growing one particular crop or farming with one specific breed of animal, Haigh manages several different crops and animals on his land. He farms with local sheep and cattle and local maize and vegetables.

“On an agro-ecological farm such as mine, you’re not forced to mono-crop [growing one particular crop for a mass market]. You grow a variety of smaller, ultimately better quality crops. If more farmers do this, consumers will have access to a greater variety of foods. People will start cooking better, healthier foods,” Haigh said.

The farmer doesn’t use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Instead, he practices “push-pull agriculture,” which uses “alternating intercropping” of plants that repel pests – pushing them away from the harvest, and ones that attract pests – pulling them away from the harvest. He uses animal manure and compost to nourish his crops.

“So there’s no harmful runoff from my land into rivers,” Haigh said.

Haigh farms with unique Zulu sheep, indigenous to South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province and highly resistant to local diseases
Haigh farms with unique Zulu sheep, indigenous to South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province and highly resistant to local diseases

Zulu sheep and cattle

Instead of farming with “high maintenance” foreign breeds of stock animals, he breeds only traditional, indigenous animals – Nguni cattle and Zulu sheep.

“Sheep which have specially adapted to this specific area, with a high humidity and a high temperature, and heavy tick infestation with external and internal parasites,” Haigh explained.

Because they’ve evolved locally, over the past 2,000 years, the sheep and cattle have developed high resistance to local pests and diseases. “This means we don’t have to pump the animals full of antibiotics, like we would have to do with exotic breeds. So our meat is totally, totally healthy for people to eat,” said Haigh.

But, despite this, he said over the years South African agricultural authorities have promoted foreign animal breeds ahead of local ones.

Because no chemicals are used on his farm, Haigh says there’s no harmful runoff from his land into rivers
Because no chemicals are used on his farm, Haigh says there’s no harmful runoff from his land into rivers

“Those were totally ignored by our department of agriculture [whose officials had an attitude of], ‘what are these funny sheep; they all look so different; their colors are different; their shape is different; some of them have small ears, fat tails, these long, thin legs.”

Haigh continued, “In the official mind, difference means inferiority.” And so, like many other parts of the world, South African officials, farmer associations and farmers themselves have preferred developing imported breeds that are “all very uniform” and planting “uniform” exotic crops, he said, and have ignored the “obvious” advantages of local animals and crop varieties.

Changing tastes

Haigh is doing his best to change this attitude. He’s trying to convince “as many farmers as possible” that there’s a market for local food. “This is absolutely essential because if local farmers don’t regard indigenous crops and animals as valuable, and if they listen to people who tell them they will only make money by farming with exotic breeds of animals and imported crops, then obviously the production of local food will suffer,” he said.

Haigh says his naturally grown indigenous maize is far healthier to eat than mass produced corn
Haigh says his naturally grown indigenous maize is far healthier to eat than mass produced corn

Then, Haigh maintained, products such as his free range eggs will never be available to consumers, despite their quality. “At the market where we sell our surplus eggs, people say, ‘Shu, but these eggs! Look at all the different colors!’ We say, ‘Well, we have different types of chickens, you know!’ There’s a market for that.”

Haigh’s convinced consumer tastes have changed. “They’re willing to try different, new things; many no longer want the same uniform kind of food,” he insisted. “There is a real place for small scale producers, working on an agro-ecological system, to produce food and to complement an industrial [agricultural] system.”

Haigh says consumers are increasingly willing to try new foods that haven’t been mass produced, and so there’s a growing market for meat from his Zulu sheep
Haigh says consumers are increasingly willing to try new foods that haven’t been mass produced, and so there’s a growing market for meat from his Zulu sheep

Bigger is not best

Another perception Haigh’s combating is the one that says to be a successful farmer, one has to run a massive commercial, technical operation producing tons of food. For too long now, he said, South Africa’s emerging black farmers especially have had an attitude that to be successful, they must manage big farms.

“I try to tell them that they can still have relatively small farms and be profitable. Of course, many still think that to be successful they must have the biggest farms and make heaps of money, because they’ve been seduced by South Africa’s extremely high-tech, streamlined and very corporate farming system,” Haigh explained.

The farmer says he lives a very simple, but also “very rich” life on his farm, farming the way he loves
The farmer says he lives a very simple, but also “very rich” life on his farm, farming the way he loves

He described it as a “myth” that the only way to end hunger was through increasing numbers of “factory” farms. “The way to easing hunger seems to me to be to develop more small scale food producers, because these are the people who are better able to serve local, hungry populations because they live directly among these populations,” Haigh said.

He therefore maintained that small agro-ecological farms like his, that are producing smaller yields but higher quality food, also have a valuable contribution to make in feeding the globe’s population.

‘Never superrich’

Haigh acknowledges he’s a “dreamer,” hoping for a time in the future when farmers farm because of a love for their vocation, and respect for their land, crops and animals…not “solely” because of a love of money.

“There’s a Sotho poet who once said, ‘Let what you do be what you love,’” he said, laughing. “We have no illusions that we are going to have a three-week holiday every year and travel overseas and whatever. We live a simple but a very, very rich life…We are just ‘being’ in a way, but we are doing what we love.”

Haigh knows he’ll never be a “superrich” farmer, but he’s at peace knowing that he’s doing what he can to supply a “small corner” of the world with healthy food, and to preserve some of South Africa’s indigenous animals and crops.

You May Like

Sunni-Shi’ite Divide Threatens Middle East Stability

Analysts say ancient dispute that traces back to Islamic Revolution is fueling modern day unrest More

Shifting Demographics Lie Beneath Racial Tensions in Ferguson

As Missouri suburb morphed from majority white to majority black, observers say power structure remained static More

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Restriction is toughest since Soviet era, though critics reject move as patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid